Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Prompt 2 (Heidegger & Frankenstein)

In Frankenstein, there is a passage in which the monster questions the reason for his existence. He asks “My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?”(Shelley, 143). According to arguments present in Martin Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology, these questions can be answered through the “four causes: the causa materialis, the material…the causa formulis, the shape, the form of which the material enters…the causa finalis, the end…the causa efficiens, which brings about the effect that is the finished”(Heidegger, 3).

The first and last cause are easy to apply. The monster’s causa materialis is simply body parts and unknown other objects that Victor Frankenstein, his causa efficiens kept secret, as these are the physical objects that were used to construct him, but the second, the causa formulis, is significantly harder to define. What is Frankenstein’s monster? Is he a person, or is he a kind of chimera? He could even be defined as a zombie if it were to be desired, as his physical composition is that of reanimated human parts. He cannot be a simple piece of technology, as modern technology “puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such”(Heidegger, 8), and the monster is not an object that provides any sort of a practical, useful task like energy creation or manufacturing of large numbers of goods. However by Heidegger’s summation of mankind’s relationship with technology, he is human. According to Heidegger, humankind’s relationship with nature is to reveal its hidden purposes in order to exploit it for whatever it may provide, which is exactly how the monster spends the beginning of his life. He mentions how he “…found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth [he] experienced from it” and shortly afterwards, discusses how “…the fire gave light as well as heat; and that the discovery of this element was useful to me in my food…”(Shelley, 112-113). The monster initially recognizes the fire as a means of providing warmth to protect him from cold, and later, on his own, discovers that the same thing can be used to provide a second purpose, much in the manner that Heidegger describes man’s poiesis of technology. Both man and monster gradually explore the natural world and find ways to use it for each’s respective needs. The monster, as an individual with primitive and unmaterialistic needs, does not use nature to provide the quantities of energy required for the production of firearms or textiles, but rather to provide a tiny enough amount for the survival of a single individual. The monster, in a way, is like early man who discovered the use of fire, the most primitive of technologies, which eventually led him to discover the intolerant “essence” of humanity that continues to harass him for no reason other than his appearance and stature.

While Heidegger’s second cause deals with the monster’s biological and physical identity, his third cause, that of the causa finalis, deals with how the monster relates to the final goals and destiny of both himself and of Victor Frankenstein. At the beginning of the novel, Frankenstein imagines that “A new species would bless [him] as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me”(49). The monster’s initial reason for existence is to be the first being in an army his creator desires for the purpose of ruling a race of beings as God. In contrast, throughout the second half of the novel, his self-guided existence revolves around two things: hunting down those associated with Victor Frankenstein and killing them, and gaining a female companion. These goals are what Heidegger would refer to as the “correctness” of his purpose, as the monster’s physical goals are not the same as their essence, of which he is well aware. He shows this awareness at the end of the novel when he tells Robert Walton about his true motives, crying about how upset he is that “the author at once of [his] existence and of its unspeakable torments…accumulated wretchedness and despair upon [him] he sought his own enjoyment in feelings and passions from the indulgence of which [he] was for ever barred, then impotent envy and bitter indignation filled [him] with an insatiable thirst for vengeance“(255). The truth of his nature is that of a justifiably-jealous individual who pains at not being able to partake in normal human emotions, which encompasses the essence of his desire for a female creature, as the creation of a female creature would allow him the same happiness as any human being. This truth complements the goals and desires he mentions to Frankenstein in the mountains, which represent the “correct.” Both in combination eventually lead to the destruction of the half-finished female creature and complete emotional collapse by both creator and creation at the end of the novel. The correctness of the monster’s physical actions and desires is encompassed by the truth of his emotional trauma and jealousy, providing the creature with a dual-layered relationship with Victor Frankenstein.

Heidegger’s four causes provide an explanation as to the nature of the monster’s existence. And it is through the monster’s questioning of this existence that allows it to be investigated further and for the true nature of he and his fellow man to be revealed.


RJ said...

It seems you have a good, confident grasp on the Heidegger material, but I think a finished paper would definitely go more into explaining why the monster is a human being and not a form of technology. I think there's a sort of contradiction going on between the idea that the monster doesn't have a purpose in keeping with Heidegger's definition of technology, and then describing the causa finalis Frankenstein intended for the monster (to worship and serve him and so on); I think that maybe the energy reserves that the monster has, which Frankenstein wishes to mine, could be purely emotional, but I also think Frankenstein intends for the monster to in fact do some actual labor for him, at least at first.

Adam said...

This was an imaginative and effective application of Heidegger to Shelley. You did well with a challenge - I need to say that at the start, before saying anything about the details.

If you revise, and engage more deeply with either Heidegger's text, or with Shelley's, in relationship with one another, I think there are things which now you take for granted which could, and probably should, come into question.

For instance, the question of the Causa Formulis. Should we understand the monster to have the form of a man, simply scaled up a little bit? Or, based on his sublimity, as discussed in class, should we understand his form in some far more radical way, even a transcendantal form (the extreme version would be to argue that his form is not that of a man, but of a God).

As far as the ends to which he is directed - you have a lot to say on this subject, and I think all of its good. But for my part, I'm not at all convinced that we shouldn't take the monster as being, in some sense, standing-reserve, or stored energy. I think we *could* see him as being in the ironic position of having the essence of *power*, but of continually turning away from (or simply not recognizing) that essence. Thus, his impressive mind and behavior, and his extremely unimpressive goals.

To put it another way; I think that the question of the end which he serves, or moves toward, bears more examination, both through the text of the novel and through Heidegger's text.

Another question: while I very much liked your analysis of the monster's relationship with technology, is it really incoherent to suggest that he has a human-like relationship *with* technology, while also being, in some sense, technology (or standing-reserve) himself? This doesn't seem to be essentially different from the position of the abstract/hypothetical man in Heidegger who, coming to the brink, is revealed as standing-reserve himself...